The tradition I carry on is an interest in family history. Both sides of my family carried stories of our past. On one side I had a great-something grandfather who, as a young man, was drafted into war by Napoleon. He was an ambulance driver and had to pick up the wounded after battles. The carnage sickened him and caused him to decide to leave Europe to save his children. On the other side, after selling property in the East, the family came west with the proceeds – in gold! As the family camped one night, some men stopped by. The next morning those men went on to raid and burn the town of Lawrence, killing all the man and boys they could find! One grandmother told me about farming in the early years of the 20th century, the other told of watching Native Americans walking by from the door of the dugout where she was born and lived.
As I got older, I learned about another great-something grandfather who enlisted in the Virginia Continental Army. He was part of the replacement troops after the hard winter at Valley Forge. He was in the first mandatory inoculation. This was against smallpox. He became ill and couldn’t get out of bed for three months. I have a copy of his muster roll. Because he could not “muster up” for those months – he wasn’t not paid for that time! He did not re-enlist. He did take something home from the experience, though, that was a word from the French soldiers. He used that word for his son’s name. I am a descendant of his son, Mignon.
I learned that Mignon was in the war of 1812. His orders were to “hold the fort.” Fortunately, his fort was never attacked. After his discharge, Mignon went west to Indiana Territory. The government was bankrupt and could not pay the soldiers, but issued IOUs. I have a copy of the one Mignon used to redeem his pay. He could not read or write, so had to sign with an X, which I learned was a legal division of space on the paper. In the top and bottom spaces created by the X, the one who signed on his behalf wrote, “his” “mark.” Then to the left and right, he wrote Mignon’s first and last names. The one who signed was a notary.
My family history has been traced back different lengths of time depending on the records found. One trail ends in Mignon’s life time. His son, from whom I am descended, married a half Native American. This may have caused a problem in the family because Mignon, a preacher, did not marry them though he married others of his children and they all lived close by. Her history was so buried that my grandfather, her grandson, did not even know which tribe was hers/ours. On her last census, in 1880, she claimed to be “white” and a “widow,” neither of which was true. Her husband lived in the next state over, with his sister! The discovery of their separation did not surprise me. He had tried, at age 60, to homestead in the semi-arid plains of central Nebraska Territory – and lost everything! She could not have been happy with that!!
On the other side, my great grandfather came over from Germany when he was 17. He said he left to avoid being drafted into the army. When I visited family there, they told a very different story. He had fled the police! He was the oldest son and, to help feed the family, had killed a small animal in the forest. This was illegal and the police of the Bishop were after him. He had an older sister in Amerika, so he fled here. The police were under the authority of the Bishop because the Pope owned and ruled that part of what is now Germany. The region is called “Franken” because it had been the eastern most territory of Charlemagne centuries before. The Pope owned the forest and all the creatures in it and decided that no one could hunt there – so my great grandfather was a criminal and fled!
When the great-something grandfather who had been in Napoleon’s war was finally able to come to the US, he had several children and his wife was pregnant with another. The children knew that the baby, being born in America, would be an American, while they were not. They knew Americans spoke English. They could not. They wondered: how would they be able to talk to this baby???